By Sara Rogers
Everyone knows certain perpetually positive people who can never fail to see the bright side of a situation, the peculiar few that can manage to lift morale in even the most adverse conditions.
I am not one of those people. As a frequent user of the “I am not pessimistic, just realistic” phrase, I am always able to find something that could potentially go wrong in any experience. While a little skepticism seems healthy for one’s sanity, new research warns of the dangers of pessimism.
A paper published in the March edition of Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, a major psychological journal, compiled 160 different studies, showing “clear and compelling” evidence for a strong link between a negative attitude and heart disease, immune system issues and shorter lifespans.
The study followed nearly 5,000 college-aged students for 40 years after rating each student on a mood and disposition scale. Those who were rated as the most pessimistic were reported as more likely to die at a younger age than their cheerier peers.
A 2010 study by the Women’s Health Initiative at the University of Pittsburgh showed a “direct link between pessimism and declining health.” Researchers followed 100,000 women and ranked them based on a series of tests determining their outlook on life. After eight years, those rated as pessimistic were 16 percent more likely to die than those rated as optimistic. They were also more likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression.
I like to consider myself a fairly healthy individual. I almost always exercise and eat a wholesome diet. If I ever managed to forget about the importance of my physical health, there is no doubt in my mind that the media and my peers would remind me.
That being said, I am concerned at how overlooked mood and disposition are when determining someone’s health. Students today are reminded of how imperative diet and exercise are to maintaining a healthy life. They compete for dominance in the health world. Where is “having a positive outlook” in the rankings?
Every day I can read tweets or Facebook posts about my friends going to the gym or loading up on vegetables for that “spring break body.” I can’t remember the last time someone talked about gearing up for spring break with a heavy dose of optimism. When does an optimistic mentality get its time in the spotlight?
It’s not likely that the media will ever give mental health the publicity it deserves. Society is so absorbed with health in terms of appearance and vanity that one’s disposition, which has a relatively insignificant effect on the exterior, is all-too-often overlooked.
Although the pessimism study shows a link between an early death and a negative attitude, the findings are unlikely to make waves. Since society is far from the point where overall well being overshadows physical appearance, it is up to individuals to shift their focus.
Pessimism is not a permanent condition. I am not eternally wired to seeing the metaphorical glass as half empty. In fact, there are plenty of ways to teach oneself to see the “bright side” of things.
For starters, exercise and eat right. Don’t neglect your physical self. There is something to be said about the positive energy resulting from a physically healthy lifestyle.
Avoid the “black clouds.” Having been one myself, I am well aware of just how toxic negativity can be. There’s no greater buzzkill than someone who can only see the downside to things. Don’t be that guy.
Some people take up yoga or meditation. Some find happy friends. Some look in the mirror and find contentment. Pessimism doesn’t have to be terminal.
It is incredibly easy to have a negative outlook in less-than-ideal situations. That’s fine, but I like a challenge.